Breaking Free: The Karmic Irony Edition

Borrowed from via

Somewhere out there, Alanis Morrisette’s lawyer is counting the number of times today I have muttered something along the lines of, isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?

Somewhat akin to rain on your wedding day, or maybe finding a dozen forks when all you need is a knife, on the eve of being filmed for a series about people who have broken free from the metaphorical shackles of a conventional 9-5 cubicle job to live a life of international freedom, I was laid off. From my international, non-cubicle job. The one that lets me travel, paid, 18 weeks of the year.

I’m trying to figure out if I have now broken free from having broken free.

As many of you already know from my endless rants here, I’m a bit uncertain about Shanghai and I was quite uncertain about my job- it gave me a ton of autonomy, a lot of free time and a lot of almost painful solitude and loneliness and frustration.  I was feeling pretty burnt out from teaching and annoyed that I was too tired to be creative a lot of the time.

So from that perspective, the up-coming lay-off is a good thing. I still have a part time freelance examining job that I could do to pay the bills, picking and choosing when to work and how much to work. And I could write! For money, even! I could play my banjo! I could study Chinese again! I could pack up and travel whenever I wanted!

Awesomeness, yeah?

Yeah. No. Because I still live in China, and to live here you need a visa. A work visa. And it can get complicated.

The Chinese university I work for suddenly decided to cancel their contract with the Australian uni that they have (had?) a joint venture with, a week after I signed my contract with them for another year. Low enrolment, they explained.

All my work papers are somewhere in bureaucratic stasis in my university’s foreign affairs office. I have no idea what’s going on with them. They were in the middle of being processed for a renewal that can’t happen now.

Even if I had a back-up job to go to, it’s not so simple to just change jobs here. You aren’t in your home country. There are legal things to take care of. Visas must be transferred from one eligible employer to the next (and not all employers can legally employ a foreigner), Foreign Expert Certificates must be rearranged, release letters must be drafted (complicated by the fact that I’m still working here until mid-June so my school can’t release me until it’s too late, as I’m going home to Canada this summer, then to Sri Lanka) and so much more.

The idea of breaking free and running off to faraway places sounds marvellous when dreamed about from the comforts of a dull cubicle. At least, I guess it does, as I’ve never really had a cubicle job. I imagine that all that padded beige would get to me after a while.

But I have been breaking free at regular intervals for the past decade and a half, shifting gears whenever I felt a change was necessary, changing countries and careers at the drop of a hat. And you know what? It’s hard. It’s complicated. It’s exhausting. And it’s frequently in a language you can’t understand with rules you’ve never even fathomed.

There are three possible outcomes for my current situation.

  1. No one in the Foreign Affairs Office at work realizes/cares that I’ve been laid off and my work permit gets renewed even without the job (Hey, I signed the contract! In triplicate! In both languages!), allowing me to legally be here without actually having to work a conventional job.
  2. The work visa doesn’t get processed and I have to come back as on a  tourist visa that we somehow procure whilst in Sri Lanka. I wouldn’t be able to work. But I could write and travel to my heart’s content. I have savings. That’s not an issue.
  3. The tourist visa attempt falls through in Sri Lanka for some unfathomable reason (and I’ve learned over the years that unfathomable reasons outnumber fathomable ones) and I apply for a student visa somehow, somewhere, and just chill out studying Mandarin for a few months.

Why am I staying, in spite of all the crap I’ll have to deal with, all the uncertainty?

We have a nice home here. Doug has a good job and he has big goals that he’s saving for. I have a handful of good friends who have offered great support (mentally, emotionally, physically) in the aftermath of this bombshell. I need time to stop and think about what I really want to do next, rather than just dropping everything and starting all over again, as I have so many times in the past.

I know that the trend these days is to sell all your things to travel the world and I think that’s awesome– but I’ve been doing that since I was 19. I’ve been giving all my stuff away and leaving every year or two. It’s a bit traumatic when you lose everything for the tenth time in ten years. Right now, I’m really enjoying having a crock pot and a wardrobe full of clothes and my own bed. I’d love to have a cat again.

I’m working on fine-tuning my version of breaking free. It’s a process rather than a moment.

Side note: About half an hour before I got the news that my job was disappearing yesterday, I also got the news that a great friend and great teacher that I knew in Istanbul had passed away after a long battle with cancer. He was a long time traveller and a kind soul. Kind thoughts heading your way, Damian.

ETA A friend from Istanbul wrote this lovely post about Damian. I wanted to add this here.

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About MaryAnne

I live in Hanoi. I used to live in Shanghai (hence this blog's title) but I left in 2013. I tend to travel. I cook stuff. I read a lot. I try to scare myself silly with regularity. I write about it all. A lot.